Monday, June 18, 2007

Javier Cercas - Interview

Richard Lea interviews Spanish novelist Javier Cercas.
An interview with a writer as artful as Javier Cercas is filled with traps for the unwary, beset by pitfalls for the unprepared. The literary interview is a territory the Spanish novelist explores at length in his international bestseller, Soldiers of Salamis, in which he drives the plot with a pair of fictional interviews considerably more colourful than many of their real-life counterparts.

The story, which won the Independent foreign fiction prize in 2004, begins when the narrator, a journalist and author named Javier Cercas, stumbles across the story of a minor poet's brush with death in the Spanish civil war during the course of an extended interview with a garrulous and evasive Spanish novelist - an interview which the fictional Cercas finally manages to "salvage", or perhaps makes up. The climactic third section of this "true tale" is set in motion by an interview with a bohemian Chilean novelist, who first tells the narrator that he doesn't need any imagination to write a novel, and later tells him to "make up" an encounter with the book's central figure - a tactic which the fictional Cercas rejects.

Meanwhile, the real Javier Cercas's latest book, The Speed of Light, follows an unnamed novelist, who has recently found success with a "true tale" about the Spanish civil war, as he grapples with the story of a Vietnam veteran whom he met while teaching at the University of Illinois - where Cercas himself spent two years in the 1980s. In the world of Javier Cercas, fact and fiction are never far apart, although this interview is at least grounded to some pretty tangible details: across the table from me is a short, compact man with jet black hair in a leather jacket. He seems a little on edge, but I presume it's the real him.

His self-reflexive technique, he explains, came out of a series of experimental columns for the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, which continues to this day. "I began to write some weird stuff in El Pais, using the 'I'," he says, "and then I became aware that this 'I' was fictional, even in a newspaper. They were experimental, crazy columns, and I began to write in a different way, that some people describe as 'self-fiction'."

So the books aren't true tales? "Of course not," he smiles. "These narrators in the books are not myself, even though in the case of Soldiers of Salamis the name is my name." Read More

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